Kumiko the Treasure Hunter (2014): Whimsical Urban Legend

Rinko Kikuchi as Kumiko

Starring Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim, The Brother’s Bloom) and directed by David Zellner (who also co wrote the screenplay with brother Nathan  and played the policeman in the film) Kumiko the Treasure Hunter is a whimsical, and somewhat melancholy, retelling of an urban legend. This tale of a socially inept misfit who travelled to America after watching Fargo, to find the money left by Steve Buscemi’s character in the Coen Bros cult hit, before being killed, was influenced by the real-life death of a Japanese office worked who killed herself 2001.

Like Kumiko, the real “treasure hunter” also took off for the wilds of Fargo, woefully ill prepared for her journey, the local media put the Fargo twist on the woman’s death and the urban legend sprang from the suicide and her travel itinerary. The real story prompted a documentary as well as this Zellner Bros  film.

The film opens with a solitary Kumiko (Kikuchi) walking on a deserted beach, following a map and going into a cave at the seaside. She finds an old VHS copy of Fargo buried in the sand and wrapped in oil cloth. Taking it home she plays the worn tape and sees the words that start the Coen Bros classic: Based on a true story…

Kumiko is a 29 year-old office lady who detests her job and the people she works with. She also dislikes her boss. Living in a tiny cubicle apartment with her pet rabbit Bunzo. Kumiko’s mother wants her to move back home, or get married, or to have a baby. As the quiet young woman does not really want to any of these, she fixates on the VHS and the buried money.

After the tape is eaten by her machine, she buys a new DVD copy of the film and a player. She draws her own treasure map and bribes a library guard into giving her a map of Minnesota.  When Kumiko’s boss gives her the company credit card to buy his wife an anniversary present, the woman takes the card and uses it to fly to America.

Described as a darkly comic film, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter elicits a similar feeling, after viewing,  to the 2006 film Memories of MatsukoOne cannot stop watching the young woman’s journey to the frozen wilds of Minnesota.  From the many odd people she meets to the end of her search for the briefcase of money, it is almost impossible not to be drawn into the tale.

Even without the knowledge that Kumiko’s journey is based upon the 2001 event which spawned an urban legend, the film is a compelling and an almost insanely intense experience. Rinko Kikuchi convinces thoroughly as the young office lady who lives in a fantasy world where buried treasure is there for the hunter to find.

After watching the character draw her own map, the beginning of the film immediately makes the viewer ask what prompted the discovery of the video tape. Was it another film? A book, or a television show?  Were they also based upon a “true story?”

Director Zellner does a masterful job of downplaying any fantastical elements of the story. Focusing instead upon Kumiko throughout.  We worry about this ill-prepared near-silent protagonist as she journeys to Fargo in search of the buried briefcase.  Despite the feeling of foreboding,  we believe  in her single minded determination to find the treasure  and that Kumiko will endure.

By the end of the film, Zellner, and Kikuchi show how the character is affected by the elements and the trials of her search.  The changing harsh landscape and elements combine to make things more unreal and strange.

Zellner as the helpful cop works well with Rinko and they two have a great chemistry. The scene where he takes the young woman to the local thrift store to get her some warmer clothes is brilliant. As he measures her feet,  the man does that “parent thing” of checking for the toe in the shoe. This  sets up the end of the scene brilliantly.  Kumiko misreads his attentions and he has to explain that he is married with two kids, something that we, the viewer, have already guessed by his actions.

As in the real story, the policeman takes Kumiko to a Chinese restaurant in an attempt to help the young lady to understand that the film  Fargo was not real.  This whimsical and melancholy  re-imaging of the 2001 urban legend is a film where the viewer roots for this unhappy misfit who  longs for adventure.

Kumiko the Treasure Hunter looks spectacular and throughout the film, Rinko’s appearance changes. At the start of the movie, the actress looks drawn and unhappy as well as every inch of her 29 years. As her journey progresses, she begins to look younger and despite the cold and little food, looks happier.

This award winning festival favorite has a musical score by The Octopus Project who actually won a Special Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Described by judges as mysterious and evocative, the music is indicative of the film itself.  This is a 5 star film and can be seen via Amazon, YouTube, Vudu and Google Play.  The Zellner Bros have made a film that could considered almost as classic as Fargo itself.

Do not miss this one.

‘Fargo’ Season Two Reunites ‘Burn Notice’ Stars

Bruce Campbell and Jeffrey Donovan
News that FX, utilizing the sharper than sharp pen of Noah Hawley, is doing a second season of Fargo is pretty exciting. Even more so is the knowledge that two Burn Notice stars are reuniting in the show. Jeffrey Donovan and Bruce Campbell will both be in the return to the brilliant criminal quirkiness that is Fargo.

The first season of the FX series, based on the Coen Bros big screen award winning cult classic 1996 film starring William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare, did much better than anyone could have predicted. The success experienced by Joel and Ethan Coen  was not expected to transfer successfully to the small screen.

But maestro Hawley utilized the verse of Fargo and introduced new characters and a splendid set of actors to play them. Billy Bob Thornton played the creepiest villain ever, Martin Freeman’s character was a nebbish everyman who murders his wife and Allison Tolman became a star.

The cast list for this second season foray into Fargo “world” includes Ted Danson, Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, Jeffrey Donovan and Bruce Campbell. The last two were costars on the long running USA network series Burn Notice. In that Miami based show Donovan played the burned (blacklisted) agent Michael Weston and Campbell played his old pal Sam,  a former Navy Seal. In Fargo season two Campbell is slated to play Ronald Reagan and Jeffrey is slated to play a crime family member.

On paper, at least, it does not look like the two will be playing many scenes together. The second season is set in the 1970s, specifically 1979, and Reagan has not yet been elected president. He would be just gearing up his presidential campaign. Considering the chemistry that Bruce and Donovan had in Burn Notice it is hopeful that the crime family resides in California and the two will have a few scenes together.

Donovan has not been overly busy since the USA series was cancelled, he is working on something called Shot Caller and its status (on IMDb) is “filming.” Campbell is also not overly busy although fans are eagerly awaiting the series premiere, in October, of Ash vs Evil Dead.  He is not currently “filming” anything else.

The two Burn Notice actors were a great double act in the show but despite this little reunion, they may be just a little overshadowed by the storyline chosen by Noah Hawley for the second season of Fargo. Information released about the plot reveals that this season is set in Minnesota and…Danson will play his age, Martin Freeman’s role will be played by Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons, and Patrick Wilson is playing Alison Tolman’s dad.

Plemons, who was brilliant as Todd, the thug with the crush on Lydia Rodarte-Quayle;  the herbal tea drinking drug boss (played by Laura Fraser), should have no problem fitting in another criminal type scenario. While there are a number of impressive names involved with this newest visit to Coen Bros territory, fans of Donovan and Campbell can take a moment to be excited about their pairing.

Saturday Night Live: Did Martin Freeman Hobbit Down as Host? (Review)

Saturday Night Live: Did Martin Freeman Hobbit Down as Host? (Review)

Excruciating puns aside, Hobbit star Martin Freeman did a pretty good job as a first time host on Saturday Night Live, he had the monologue down pat although it did look as though the writers had a hard time coming up with gags for the Sherlock star to deliver. The old, all English actors know one another bit was a tad flat, even the talented Kate McKinnon failed to connect very well with her Dame Maggie Smith impression and as for that Alan Rickman turn by Taran Killam, the less said the better.

Twelve Monkeys Versus 12 Monkeys

Twelve Monkeys Versus 12 Monkeys

It seems like the successful small screen adaptation of the Coen Brothers film Fargo has left the door wide open for other big screen classics to be remade on a smaller scale, the latest is Terry Gilliam’s time travel tale Twelve Monkeys and it will be Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt versus 12 Monkeys, SyFy and Noah Bean. This move could be just as well received as FX’s Fargo although to be honest, the cast list was pretty impressive in version of the Coen Brothers downsized film.

Sarah Silverman Hosts SNL and Pays Tribute to Hero Joan Rivers

Sarah Silverman Hosts SNL and Pays Tribute to Hero Joan Rivers

Sarah Silverman made a triumphant return to Saturday Night Live (SNL) playing host and paying tribute to her hero Joan Rivers. It has only come to light recently that the 43 year-old stand up comic, actress and writer was dumped unceremoniously via fax, a sort of old fashioned version of being fired by text, from the show back during the male dominated part of the franchise in the 1990’s. What is interesting about her being “let go” is the reasoning behind it.